Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Radical and Out!

In his new book A Saving Remnant: The Radical Lives of Barbara Deming and David McReynolds, Marty Duberman chronicles the lives of "two openly queer Americans who devoted their lives to the struggles for peace and social justice." This is an excerpt of Doug Ireland's review from Gay City News.

Lives of Courage and Commitment
by Doug Ireland
March 2, 2011

McReynolds, born in 1929 and still going strong today, was raised in Los Angeles as a devout Baptist by conservative Republican parents. But while in high school he read muckraker Lincoln Steffens’ autobiography and underwent a political conversion. McReynolds had his first homosexual experience in grammar school, and when he was 19 came out to his parents. Although he had some guilt about his “deviance,” that vanished when he was a student at UCLA after an encounter in a notorious “queer bathroom” on campus with a young Alvin Ailey, not yet famous as a dancer and choreographer.

“Alvin’s guilt-free attitude toward homosexuality became a model for David (‘I came home walking on a cloud’) and the two became good friends, though never lovers,” Duberman recounts.

By this time, 1951, McReynolds had become deeply involved with the Socialist Party. Founded in 1901 under the leadership of labor leader Eugene Victor Debs, the party reached its peak of influence in 1912, when, with Debs as its presidential candidate, it won 6 percent of the vote; had 100 elected public officials, including several members of Congress; and a press with a readership in the millions. But the party’s principled pacifism during World Wars I and II brought it government persecution and decimated its membership, and by the early ’50s the party, for decades led by Norman Thomas, was a shadow of its former self.

As a well-known, “outspoken and magnetic” campus radical “on the non-Communist side,” the handsome young McReynolds became a leader of the Socialists’ left wing, all while being open about his homosexuality with his party comrades in its somewhat Bohemian LA local, but “never taking any flack for it.”

McReynolds, already a committed pacifist, risked prison when he refused induction into the army for the Korean War, and it was then that he met Bayard Rustin, the field director of the principal pacifist organization, the War Resisters League, later famous as the organizer of the 1963 March on Washington under Martin Luther King’s leadership. At the time of their meeting, Rustin had just been arrested on a “morals charge” for a homosexual encounter, and a long talk with Rustin about homosexuality helped further diminish any of McReynolds’ residual guilt feelings about his own same-sex orientation.

It is difficult to overstate the enormous courage and personal integrity required of Deming and McReynolds to be openly queer at a time in America when homosexuality was illegal, and homosexuals were condemned to barbaric tortures to “cure” them by medicine and loathed as degenerate outcasts by most of society. This was especially true in the 1950s at the height of the McCarthyite witch-hunts, when government was purging both left-wingers and homosexuals from its ranks and those of academia and the labor movement, and when homosexuality was frequently identified with Communism in the dominant rhetoric of the red-baiters.

read the entire review at Gay City News...

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